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Q&A with the Academic Director: Professor Opher Baron

In this blog post we hear from Professor Opher Baron, Academic Director of the Master of Management Analytics program. Professor Baron talks about his background, why business analytics is important, and the benefits of studying at a business school.

This is the first of three posts.

Could you talk a little about your background?

I have been at Rotman since 2003, and I hold a PhD in Operations Management from MIT, and an MBA and BSc at Technion, Israel Institute of Technology.

In terms of research, I’m interested in operations management in general, with a particular focus on service systems and manufacturing systems.

Within this area, I’m specializing in queueing theory. This is about the management of queues and waiting times. I’m an impatient person, I don’t like waiting!  So, my focus is to try and see how I can improve wait times and make them shorter.

I find it a lot of fun doing this work. I like working with the students too. There are two different levels.  There is the class instruction where you’re teaching to groups.  In addition to the MMA program, I also teach in the PhD, MBA and Commerce programs at Rotman. Then there is the research supervision of PhD students. I’ve supervised a number of PhD and postdoc students.

What I really enjoy is seeing these students progress through their careers. When I see them or get a notification on LinkedIn saying someone has been promoted…that is the best feeling, that I’ve contributed in some way to their professional success.

Why is business analytics important?

There are three different levels to this answer. At a very basic level, if it’s done right, it can improve business management.

The second layer: it’s really interesting.  As an academic, I like interesting things. There are many different ways you can explore the data that organizations hold.

The final layer is one of the reasons I studied operations management to begin with. What is the implication of making better business decisions? People generally think about it in the very short term, “Oh, I’m going to make more profit”. To me, it’s the idea of using resources more effectively. If I can deliver the same quality of service more cheaply I’m reducing my costs. I’m using fewer resources to deliver the same quality of service. That’s important in business, it can help to improve quality of life, and looking more broadly, it has huge societal implications.

Let’s take global warming, for example. We need to better understand how to not over-consume our resources while still maintaining and improving our quality of life. Developed nations gain much of their development by consuming resources of our planet. An important question nowadays- is how can developing nations enjoy similar prosperity while limiting the consumption of these resources?

Advancements in technology have made the capture and use of data easier. We have data today that when I was in undergraduate we could only dream of. Going back to the question of queueing, I’d be speaking to people and would ask them what the average wait time for a customer is. They’d have no idea.

Now that and more is possible.

Let’s use an example of a call centre. It’s possible for them to know the number you called from, when you called, how long it took for you to get to the first agent, how long you talked with them and if you were transferred to someone else. They know when you left the system. They have that transaction-level data on each interaction people have with the call centre.

This all means they can manage their systems more effectively.

Take it a step further, with natural language processing you can explore the issues that have been raised much more easily. You can uncover the sentiment during the call.

With this information, you can improve the way the business operates.

Another example is in healthcare. A lot of different data is now collected about a person’s health, and this, with other data, can be used to improve healthcare services. Mass messages about a healthy, balanced diet, for example, are important, but what about if you can personalize it so you’re providing suggestions to people based on their own health record and genes? One person might be encouraged to eat more of one thing, another person advised to eat something entirely different.

Analytics can be useful with diagnosis. If someone is identified as being at a higher risk of a particular condition because of their health history they could be advised to take some medical tests earlier than typically recommended. The current guidelines on many of these tests are often crude.- So many unnecessary tests are taken and many necessary ones are not. Better usage of data can help to personalize the need for specific tests and thus use the testing resources more effectively.

Wait times can also be improved using analytics, as can improved resource allocation. There is a lot of potential in healthcare analytics, and we’re seeing a number of our students wanting to work in this area.

What is the benefit of studying analytics at a business school?

Analytics are used a lot in business settings. Marketing was one of the first areas to use analytics extensively with customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Marketers were collecting customer data to be able to understand what products and services were best to offer to customers.

Nowadays, almost every business is using, or wants to use, data to improve decision-making. The challenge is, generally business people are not very technically inclined. It is only relatively recently that business analytics courses and programs have become more common.

Many people at the top of organizations were educated 20 or 30 years ago when data wasn’t as much of a tool. They don’t speak a technical language. There are younger leaders too who are not trained in analytics.

On the other side, programs offered outside of business schools develop great data scientists who are less familiar with the business impacts. They might be looking for solutions to really interesting problems, but they might not actually make a difference to business decisions. Such solutions do not offer a good return on investment.

I see situations where a company has a fantastic management team and a fantastic analytics team that does wonderful things, but there isn’t the proper integration between the two.

A business analytics professional, like a graduate from our MMA program, is able to understand both sides. They understand the business need and the tools and models needed to produce insight from data and information that is actionable. They are well positioned to facilitate integration between the management and data teams and thus to create synergy to benefit the business.

Read post #2

The Master of Management Analytics is designed to give students the advanced data management, analytics and communication skills needed to become an analytics professional. 

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